Holy fucking shit! We forgot all about Joe! The day that I took Ashley on a tour of West Philadelphia before his paper on “The Pitt”, we stopped at Green Line so he could evacuate a bit of diarrhea and order a few rounds of French Roast.
While Ashley was chatting up his ‘sexy barista’, trying to assure her that he was not in a gay relationship with me without going so far as to reveal that he has a wife (providentially, he had insisted that I stash his wedding band in a drawer in my chambre earlier in the morning), I took a look at the family-friendly flyers covering the door to the WC, where I noticed a flyer for a book, Consuming Starbucks, that was either being released at Joe or was being read at Joe or was for sale at Joe — I have no way of knowing without actually reading the entire flyer.
As I returned to my table, I whispered to myself that I should see if this book would be suitable for inclusion in Cafe Tableaux’s Recommended Texts. Moments later this mental note was lost as Ashley began his interrogations regarding the barista’s ‘availability’.
Thos.: ‘Available for what?’
Ashley: ‘Dating, I guess’
Thos.: ‘I don’t think she is interested in dating customers.’
Ashley: ‘Why not?’
Thos.: ‘I’ve been a customer here for two years, and I haven’t discerned any interest in dating me’
Ashley: ‘Have you ever talked to her?’
Thos.: ‘I talk to her every time I come here!’
Ashley: ‘What do you say?’
Thos.: ‘I’ll have a coffee. Maybe a bagel. What do you think about my work?’
Ashley: ‘She knows your ‘work’?’
Thos.: ‘It doesn’t seem so.’
I convince Ashley to sow his oats elsewhere, and, after his ‘emergency run’ to the restroom, we sprint up Baltimore Hill and shell out $4 for the trolley ride to this week’s BiMon SciFi Con.
After Ashley’s public humiliation at the hands of an anally-restricted, insecure toadie from Michael Graves’s office and a fruitless encounter with a hottie from Tennessee Tech or somewhere, we pick up Ashley’s coat and bag and head into the streets to investigate the promised ‘best bookstore in Philadelphia’. Three minutes after exiting the PSFS building and two-and-a-half minutes after realizing that we don’t need coats for a dérive from Center City to South Phila to Fairmount, we turn the corner at 12th and Walnut and see Joe Coffee Bar at the other end of the block.
Much like some people use the term ‘hipster’ — an indexical referrent meant to encompass all the music, clothes, stores, magazines, bikes, or bars an irritating person might consume — as an insult when the precise reason for the person being an irritant can not be found, I often fail to understand any way to describe architecture from the 1970′s without just using ‘70′s‘ as an adjective.
I think they used the term ‘contemporary’ at the time; I grew up — yes, Thos. lived in the 70′s — recognizing the mode as anything including 45-degree angles and cedar siding, and nothing in my architectural education came close to touching this era in US history, except perhaps a photograph of Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia (Fuck.) at the close of my Trachtenberg. To me this ‘style’ is a blend of a stripped, muted reaction to both the hedonistic, drug-addled excesses (no more psychotropic colours) and the hippie, whole-earth movements (solar heating, ‘natural’ materials) of the 1960′s. Whatever the fuck academics like that prick back at PSFS might call it, it pervaded the mall food courts and office parks of my youth; even at the time, I knew it to be soulless and shallow.
Joe is stuck into such a distasteful shell. The space is undeniably uncomfortable, but it is neither campy enough to be kitsch nor offensive enough to be hated. Even looking at the logo, I get the idea that if Ralph Nader was a designer, he would put out such a cafe as Joe.
If not for the horses ambling down the street, towing carriages stuffed with tour guides in colonial-era suits, one might mistake this location for one of the cafes lining Memorial Drive which our Decatur tableauxists patronize with much relish, only without the neon-coloured Blenders or Frostee drinks.
This was not what I had expected from Joe. In the past, conducting research as we mapped our forays into the cafes of Philadelphia, Saul Cups and I had come across this modestly named coffee ‘bar’ on the web, and its stats were tantalizing: Fair Trade, yes; Organic, yes; Soymilk, yes; WiFi, yes. Finally, there was within reach a decent cafe not located in West Phila. We argued over who would review this establishment, yet, as weeks went by, exclaims were heard:
‘Why are we at White Place? We should be at Joe!’
‘I can’t believe I’m drinking shit from Tuscany, instead of checking out Joe!’
‘What did I drive to New York for? I haven’t even been to Joe yet!’
On the day that we eventually visited, our hopes were rapidly dashed. The coffee, soymilk, vegan treats and all the usual shit were fine, of course, but the environment was such an assault on anyone with well-developed visual acumen, it was impossible for a lazy Sunday of boning up on your Neruda much less get your Cryptoclassic decoded. We left with one sentiment in mind, the classic diatribe: ‘Fuck Joe’.
However, crossing the street with Ashley this sweltering March afternoon, it occurred to me that Joe is perfect for its setting. Adjacent to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and surrounded by middling offices conducting forgettable businesses, it is a spot ideally smoothed to ensure the monotony of the district. Blue button-down types who wear red ties are just barely abstaining from killing themselves as they take a break from their temp jobs upstairs. Folks who are watching their relatives die from gunshot-inflicted sepsis or who are getting paid to undergo experimental HPV treatment have too much on their mind to absorb an unfamiliar view. The locals must be able to drift from the cubicle to the chemotherapy lab to the hospital gift shop to the cafe to the Wendy’s across the street unimpeded by radical thought.
We never checked out that Starbucks book that has something to do with Joe, but we did verify that they are joined with Chapterhouse, Green Line Cafe, Kaffa Crossing, and a few other local cafes in
Philadelphia’s Independents Coffee Cooperative, which is pretty awesome.
[update: R.I.P. Independents Coffee Cooperative]
Joe Coffee Bar1100 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
fair trade: available